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The president of the District of Columbia school board, in what some local leaders painted as heresy, has endorsed the idea of bringing a pilot voucher program to the nation's capital.

Peggy Cooper Cafritz offered her support for federally financed vouchers in a Washington Post commentary published March 29. About a month earlier, the newspaper had quoted the elected board leader as saying, "This board is solidly against vouchers."

Ms. Cafritz was unavailable for comment last week.

In the op-ed piece, she said that "some version of this legislation is certain to pass" Congress.

She said, however, the voucher money should be spent only in the city of Washington. Voucher bills introduced in Congress would let students use federal cash for public or private schools in the city's Maryland and Virginia suburbs. Ms. Cafritz also said participating private schools should have to comply with the "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001 and make test scores available to the public.

"We should join the U.S. Department of Education in forging a system that includes vouchers, charter schools, and public schools—one that would afford children in the District the best possible education," she wrote.

In his fiscal 2004 budget request, President Bush called for $75 million for public and private school choice. He said a portion of this money should be set aside for vouchers in Washington. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., introduced a bill that would authorize $7 million for vouchers for the city's students next year, with the aid targeted to low- income families.

Ms. Cafritz's view didn't go over too well with some local leaders.

"I was shocked, and everybody I've talked to is shocked," Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Democrat who is the District of Columbia's nonvoting representative in Congress, told TheWashington Post. "What Peggy has proposed is unprincipled and operationally impossible, and it won't happen."

The newspaper itself came to Ms. Cafritz's defense in an April 1 editorial.

"The shock of some politicians and public school activists is understandable," it said. "It's not every day that the school board president in a major urban school district endorses vouchers." But the editorial said calling the proposal "unprincipled" was going too far.

"Ms. Cafritz has taken a bold stance," it said. "She does not deserve the cheap shots."

—Erik W. Robelen

Vol. 22, Issue 30, Page 27

Published in Print: April 9, 2003, as Federal File

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